Mitch Diamantopoulos, February 22, 2024 in the CCPA Monitor:
he largest mass layoffs in three decades at Bell Canada Enterprises Inc. (BCE) last week set the conglomerate on a collision course with Ottawa. Along with sparking coffee row debates over taxpayer support for the company, the layoffs and cancelled CTV news programs should also prompt a wider conversation about targeting media reforms to better arrest journalism’s decline.

BCE’s cuts prompted a swift backlash. The company, after all, posted a $2.3 billion profit at the end of last year and its dividend payments trended steadily upward over the last decade.

“This is absolutely devastating news for thousands of workers and their families,” said Unifor National President Lana Payne. “Adding insult to injury, the company is conducting this mass layoff while increasing dividends to shareholders and buying back shares.”

The company blamed Ottawa and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, citing slow progress in updating the Broadcast Act (Bill C-11) and introducing The Online News Act (Bill C-18).

Payne dismissed this rationale “as a smokescreen to justify the company’s actions”. Bill C-11 became law in April. Bill C-18 followed in June.

Yet what’s most surprising is that anyone was surprised.

While Ottawa has made important first steps to stabilize news outlets and protect journalist jobs, it also learned last week that offering incentives to scorpions won’t change their nature. Monetizing journalism’s crisis through shrewd lobbying, some have clearly used the leverage of public concern to boost dividends rather than expand news coverage. The latest round of Bell layoffs just serves as a particularly scandalous reminder of what can happen to the interests of the democratic many when too much media power rests with the wealthy few.

Clearly, more imaginative reforms are necessary.

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